Short Track Lovin’ – Chapter 66: Atlanta

Sarina sat back in the hauler, relaxed on the couch as she finished up her morning FaceTime with her brother. Knowing that Chase had a couple appearances – check in with the NAPA suite, followed by ChaseU and the driver’s meeting, she had some time for herself. He offered her the chance to come, but she declined as she knew what she needed to do.

“Is that Sarina Ott that I see sitting there?” She hears her name, and glances up at the eyes watching her. She immediately rolls them, resisting the urge to kick his ass.

“Oh Jared, how nice it is to see you too,” she answers as he simply smiles in return.

“So I take it my phone call actually did something, even though you won’t admit it?” She wanted to give him another snarky comeback, but it couldn’t find a way out as she glanced up from her phone.

“Actually, I may have to thank you strangely. My mind was already flowing with thoughts of Chase and the schedule together, but you kicked it into overdrive. It got me thinking more and perhaps I reached out to him afterwards. Perhaps we had a discussion, and perhaps now I’m here. Do you want a medal for your effort?” Jared just smiles as he shakes his head no in return. All that mattered to him was that Chase was happy.

“No, I’m good. I just wanted to see if you’d admit it, and I wanted to tell you personally that it’s great to see you back at the track with him.” She just smiles back as she watches him head off to do whatever pre-race duty he had to do.

She keeps herself focused on checking a couple text messages, among other things, till she hears steps up to the lounge once again. This time, her smile is wider as she recognizes Chase right away.

“So how did everything go this morning?” She asks as she watches him go into the cupboard.

“Pretty good actually,” he answers. “Everybody is happy. Now I just have to get the job done on track.” She smiles as she knew the pressure he put on himself, and knew how badly he wanted to perform in front of the hometown crowd.

“I believe in you. I believe in the team. I think it’ll be an awesome day, even better than yesterday.” He smiles back as he lays the suit out on the table, before glancing at her. He was confident in himself as he saw how well they practiced, leading the final session, and knew the car the team had brought to the track.

“I hope you’re right, and I have a feeling you are.”  Transitioning across the small lounge to the small cupboard, he takes out the bottle of Tylenol, taking a deep breath as he snatches two out of the bottle.

“How sore has it been?” He glances over at her, knowing the question was of concern for him, but also her own curiosity. He knew despite everything, and trying to let go of the blame, she still blamed herself because it was her brother.

“Last week, I have to admit that I really sore and I mean really sore after the 500 – but that’s to be expected with week one. So far this weekend, it’s enough to annoy me and enough that I still am taking the Tylenol, but not enough that I am complaining like I was then.” She shook her head, understanding. It gave her some comfort, but not as much as she was hoping. She hated to see him in any pain at all, nether less pain her family had caused. Why hadn’t she seen the signs sooner with her brother?

Greg then walks in, giving a quick nod to begin the process as he snatches the roll of gauze out of the cupboard.

“Did you take the Tylenol already?” Greg asks as Chase shakes his head yes after taking off his t-shirt. “Arms up.” Chase then reaches his arm up in the air, small aggravated noise as he does so, feeling the familiar pulling pain in his ribs he had felt every time thus far. “That should start to go away next week as it heals more.” Greg then tightly wraps him up, making sure it’s a little tighter than probably what everybody had anticipated, before sealing it off. “Remember the drill post-race, no matter what.”

“Remove immediately, take another two Tylenol, and go through the breathing exercises no matter the pain with some ice on the spot,” Chase recites as Greg simply smiles back in return. He hated to see the kid go through this, but he was glad that he was dealing with an easy patient.

“Don’t worry Greg, I’ll take care of him,” Sarina says as she gets up, walking over and wrapping an arm around Chase.

“I know you will.” Greg then heads out of the hauler, done his duties with Chase for the day, set for his next task of the afternoon.

“Got everything you need?” Chase asks as Sarina holds up her phone with a smile. “Then let’s go. Driver introductions are soon.”

“You’re just a busy boy today, huh?” Sarina questions and Chase simply shakes his head yes as they head out together.

It felt nice and familiar to be heading out to the grid with her today. It didn’t feel like last weekend when he felt a little lost with thoughts swirling through his mind, trying to put his mind into focus mode. Instead, this week he felt comfortable and relaxed, and knew the focus mood of racing would come easily once he strapped into the car for that day’s race.

He went through the motions – driver introductions, handshakes, trip around the track in the truck, VIP photos on pit road, visits with family and friends. Everything went with ease as they neared closer to the start of the race.

When it came to opening ceremonies, the loneliness and nerves felt at Daytona had disappeared as he wrapped an arm around Sarina, holding him close to her. Once opening ceremonies were done, a quick kiss and he was climbing into the car, ready to do his job that day.

Starting from 11th, it seemed everything was set to go his way that day as he quickly made his way up through the field, breaking into the top-five with ease before cars started peeling off for the first round of pit stops. Everything came together as he crossed the line for the first stage.

In the second stage, he was able to find a little bit more speed and move into second behind Kevin Harvick. He tried to work at closing the ever-growing gap, working the bottom yellow line as he knew he had to just like the guy he was chasing, finding some speed but not enough. Still, he was pleased with the efforts as they crossed the line second for the stage. As long as they found a little more speed for the second half of the race, perhaps this was the day.

The speed continued to show through the race, as he was even able to close the gap at one point on Kevin Harvick. Radioing to Alan Gustafson and the team that the car felt good and just a couple minimal changes, he was ready for the second half.

However, then it happened. A quick flash of red on his dashboard from the lights indicating pit road speed and he had done it, he had sped on pit road. Now instead of being able to work at chasing Harvick down, he was back in 14th, trying to stay on the lead lap as he hoped for a caution to fly. Thankfully, one did 25 laps later. Now he just needed to get the track position back.

Restarting in the 14th position, he drove his way back to the front, moving back into the familiar second position before the final caution flew with 18 laps to go. It was the money stop – time for his guys to shine to put him in position to maybe, just maybe beat Kevin. However, a small slip –up by the Jackman and he rolled off pit road in fifth. Harvick speeding on pit road then bumped him up to fourth.

The outside line didn’t go, as usual with him cursing to himself the whole way, as he dropped back position after position. However, with the car the team had given him, he was able to make up ground, eventually crossing the line in fifth.

He wanted to be happy with the performance. They had been able to rebound from the pit road speeding penalty. They had shown speed all day, which just added to confidence for the weeks to come.

However, he couldn’t help but wonder what could’ve been. Given how strong the car was and given how they had ran second to Kevin all day, what if they had come off pit road in second? Could he have held off Brad and Kyle to win the race? Could this had been his first career victory?

The frustration showed through in his post-race interview before he made his way over to Alan, noting he had a suggestion with regards to their pit road speed tracking and how it could be fixed. The crew chief simply accepted the notion, before making sure to tell his driver how proud he was of him.

“We’re going to get our win – soon,” Alan says and Chase shakes his head in agreement.

After going through the unwrapping process, and then some time in the media center, he retreated back to the trailer and the familiar couch, as he laid back with ice on his side going through the breathing techniques.

“Are you okay?” He hears a female voice pipe up halfway through and he shakes his head yes.

“A little frustrated, but I’m okay,” he answers as he looks over at her. “We had a fast car. We were in contention all day. We’re continuing to show speed every week. We’re continuing to put ourselves in position, and it could’ve worse after the mistake that I made. We’ll tidy up the issues and head to Vegas with hopes of victory.”

“Hopes of victory? Hell, I think I’d rather be saying see you in victory lane.” Chase wanted to feel that confident, but knew anything was possible. He had thrown the race away the past two weeks, and everybody knew what Kevin did after leading all but 33 laps.

“Don’t count your chickens before they hatch. Just ask Kevin.”


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